In an eclectic night of minimalist beats and nostalgic rock, the Ottobar brought together a collection of local Baltimore bands to play a four-part concert on Jan. 18. The event took place in the venue’s downstairs performance space.
The audience, which was mainly comprised of the venue’s typical crowd of Baltimore twenty-somethings, was consistently engaged throughout the event’s 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. duration. At times the standing room floor was so packed that some audience members sat up in the balcony to the left of the stage.
Nerftoss, an electronic solo act by John Jones, was the first to perform. Jones was once a member of the Baltimore-based noise rock band Dope Body, which formed in 2008.
Jones’ new sound is more minimalist yet still brings melodic rhythms that the audience can move to. His most recent album, Prospect Endless, was released in 2016.
According to a statement released at the time of the album, Jones hoped his songs would encourage the listener during hard times. “[I want] the listener to remember to be hopeful in a time that is increasingly suggestive to do otherwise,” he said.
Next was Smoke Bellow, a trio from Australia that is currently based in Baltimore. Outfitted in matching jumpsuits and dreamy expressions, the members of the band played a set that reflected the “smoke” element of their name.
Their voices, at once both in harmony and in conflict, meandered across the notes like smoke circling through the air. Though the lyrics were mostly incomprehensible, the songs emitted a clear feeling from the start.
Throughout the set, the crowd swayed and bopped to the beats that seemed to have no beginning or end. The pleasant pulses and underlying drone of the electric bass enveloped the room.
There were also a number of instruments presented between the three musicians. The lead singer, Christian J. Best, also played the saxophone while the two female members of the group, Meredith McHugh and Jessie Hughes, played the guitar, electric bass and keyboard. One guitarist also picked up a flute for one song.
Wing Dam was third to perform, bringing a grittier rock feel to the event. Like Smoke Bellow, the group consisted of three members: Sara Autrey on lead vocals and bass guitar, Austin Tally on guitar and vocals and Abe Sanders on drums.
Autrey was the most talkative of the three, joking about the band’s brief technical difficulties and giving shout outs to the other groups. While their set was reminiscent of grungier ‘90s rock, especially with Autrey’s throaty, almost angsty vocals, it also had a full, pop quality to it that could have filled up an even larger venue.
The perfectly blended harmonies between Autrey’s voice and Tally’s deeper, almost nasally voice also gave a modern feel to the performance.
The final group of the night, Chiffon, was an electronic music duo consisting of a synth and a keyboard. Though one member had a broken shoulder, she still managed to play the full set on her keyboard.
Both musicians took turns singing lead vocals. Their voices had a smooth, clear quality that layered perfectly over the crashing beats. Their sound varied throughout the set between more futuristic, pulsating tones and more old-school songs that the audience could dance to.
For their last song of the night, Chiffon asked the crowd what they wanted to hear. A few members of the audience called out that they wanted to dance.
What followed was an upbeat pop song that got almost the whole audience, even those who had been standing still throughout the entire set, to dance across the floor.
All of the groups have performed in local Baltimore venues in the past, including The Crown, Metro Gallery, EMP Collective and The True Vine, a record store in the Hampden neighborhood. Their music can be found on their individual Bandcamp pages.